Court decision protects online advocacy and education
April 22, 2011: Public interest legal advocates should not be liable for defamation simply for sharing litigation documents like pleadings or briefs on their websites. As an organization that posts these documents on its website to educate members of the public about the law and advocate for client communities, the Public Justice Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Norman v. Borison in the Maryland Court of Appeals on January 7, 2011, arguing just this point. The PJC was joined on the brief by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, CASA de Maryland, Maryland Legal Aid, and Public Citizen. On April 22, 2011, the Maryland Court of Appeals adopted the PJC’s argument in holding that the absolute judicial privilege, which protects statements made in relation to a judicial proceeding from liability for defamation, extends to the republication of litigation documents on the internet. The Court wrote that, “a complaint is a public document and the law does not distinguish where, or in what manner, a public document is viewed.” (internal quotation marks and alterations removed). The Court’s decision is not only a victory for the public interest lawyer appellees involved in the lawsuit; it upholds Maryland’s strong public policy in favor open access to judicial records and proceedings and protects public interest lawyers who use litigation documents for advocacy and education.